I’m popping off to Ethiopia, but enjoy a riveting spring

Damien Enright is heading off to roam the highlands and lowlands of Ethopia but not before he leaves you with some springtime inspiration.

A fine, fat, useful frog at Three Castles Head, West Cork, almost fist-sized with all the bothersome midges he has consumed!

It seems that, by the time you read this column, I’ll be in the Ethiopian highlands or lowlands, maybe in the Rift Valley. I have no special plans or itinerary. I’ve never been in Ethiopia before.

It’s very high above sea-level and I hope my ears don’t keep popping all the time. They have a tendency to do, even in La Gomera, where the highest point is only 1,4870m.

Anyway, I will be toting along a balloon system which is supposed to un-pop them, should the problem occur. It seems you stick a balloon into your nostril and, keeping your mouth and the other nostril closed, blow it full of air.

I hope it works. I hope I won’t have to do it in public. I’ve no doubt I’ll be intrigued by how the Ethiopians look, but the sight of an Irishman with an inflated balloon sticking out of one nostril will, no doubt, be intriguing for them.

Meanwhile, it is a pity to leave Ireland with the spring easing itself in. Bluebells are popping up in little green spikes out of the leaf-plastered woodland floor, with pale, spear-shaped ramson leaves around them.

Take one of these leaves and crush it between finger and thumb and the smell of garlic will be so pungent that you’ll stand back from your hand. The scent when they’re young is strong enough to scare away a coven of vampires.

They also make good pesto, crushed along with pine nuts and olive oil in a mortar and pestle. My knowledge of pesto is entirely confined to enjoying it as a garnish for pasta. But it certainly makes a cheap and simple dressing, adding lively zest to the spaghetti, macaroni, or whatever.

Birds are pairing up; taispe is in the air. The crows have all built, or are building. The 2,000 rooks that fly back and forth over our local woods every evening at dusk are especially raucous.

Magpies have their domed nests up, grey crows have secured their solitary, untidy bundles, often quite low in a tree, the ravens on the cliffs had laid the first sticks by February 6, and the herons already have their big rafts of twigs perched atop the tallest trees and so well built that they survived the gales of the weekend before last when, in our yard, everything, including bins, buckets, and heavy flower pots, were sent scattering.

The leaves of wild triquetrous garlic grows like a slightly broader silage grass under the beeches across our stream; heliotrope, blooming and otherwise, is rampant. The earliest celandine has flowered.

What I found most joyous this February was a pond at a friend’s garden so dense with frog spawn soup that one could see more spawn than water. This pond is twice the size of a double bed, so there were many, many embryonic froglets in their bubbles just waiting to be hatched.

He has these froglet legions hopping about the adjacent lawn every year, and cannot cut the grass until late June for fear of mincing them.

He is an ecological person, this man, Anthony Creswell, who owns and runs Ummera Smoked Products in Timoleague, Co Cork, producing high-grade, organic salmon and other delicacies, and when he says organic, I believe him.

He has created a wetland between his home and the River Argideen. Here, rushes, marsh marigolds and frogs thrive. It is wonderful that frogs have a safe haven. Those of us over 40 will remember that one almost always encountered a frog or two when crossing a rain- or dew-wet field, or drove the roads on a rainy night. No more.

I haven’t seen a frog for years and I regularly pass through grassy fields, largely ‘improved’, of course, and cut for silage. Not a frog, and certainly not a newt!

The last newts I saw were in England, the last frogs in La Gomera in the Canary Islands. Anyway, Anthony is giving these useful amphibians space and conditions in which they can thrive. If all those bubbles become froglets, there will certainly be no midges at Ummera!

My reason for visiting Anthony was to collect a bucket-full of very lively, shiny earthworms — farmed to turn his salmon waste to compost — to spread over our garden and transform mulch, spread earlier, into fine soil, albeit the clay layer remains beneath.

But, Anthony tells me, the worms will penetrate that too. They always head for the earth’s centre. It’s not ‘per ardua, ad astra’ (through adversity to the stars) with worms, but the opposite. And, apparently, if you are lost, find a worm and let it crawl away. Supposedly, worms always crawl northward, he says. Can this be true?



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